Fenton Feed Mill is one of, if not the oldest, continually running mills in St. Louis County and the surrounding area. While it is by no means one of the best examples of mills or one of the biggest, it is one of the best examples of how a mill has changed and adapted over the years to remain a viable business and a part of the community.
The Fenton Mill was originally a sawmill and later a grain mill. In 1872 a corn and flourmill was built on the present site. Henry Temple bought and ran the mill until he died in 1884. Three years after Mr. Temples death a more modern flouring mill was built, but burned in 1893. Mr. Swantner was aided by the citizens of Fenton in rebuilding the mill in 1898. A Mr. Bunderson is believed to have been running the mill about 1911 and producing 100 barrels of product a day. The popular brands of the time were “Belle of The Meramec” and “Userite”, a bakery flour. The mill was mainly grinding corn and wheat from surrounding farms.
Its uncertain what the mill was powered with when it was first built, but blueprints for a Brownell Company steam engine were found in the 1990’s. The blueprint was found in a toolbox on the top floor of the mill. It was quite a surprise that the paper survived being chewed to pieces by the mice for more than 85 years and a fire. The engine was a 12X14 right hand detached throttling engine. A large cistern on the side of the mill captured rainwater for the boiler, which was located in the basement along with the steam engine.
One story tells of an accident with the boiler early in the century. Supposedly the workers would come to the mill in the morning and fish in the Meramec River while waiting for the boiler to build up enough pressure to run the steam engine. One particular morning an explosion was heard down on the river by the workers as the boiler had built up a little too much pressure. This could have been why the mill was eventually repowered by a diesel engine and finally converted to electric motors.
Today the mill still uses some of the line shafts and pulleys installed more than a hundred years ago. Synthetic rubber and fiber flat belts have replaced the leather flat belts, which tend to stretch over time and need periodic adjustment.
Mr. Robert Schuchart purchased the mill in 1913, the same year as the big town fire.
And while fires were the biggest concern for a mill, flooding was almost guaranteed. The Meramec River, only yards away and with a watershed of more than 3000 square miles would flood the mill on quite a few occasions. One of the biggest was in 1915 and was reported in the local paper. At this time the mill was known as the New Fenton Roller Mill.
Over the years the mills use, as well as owners, would change. The mill was still grinding flour through World War II, but was grinding more and more animal feed as customers changed their buying habits. Flour mills, were becoming larger and more concentrated and pre-packaged products were becoming available to the average homeowner at the grocers. Farmers were still bringing grain to the mill to be ground and mixed, but now it was for the barnyard instead of the kitchen table.
The mill still suffered the occasional flood, and another fire in the 1950’s. Fortunately, the fire was contained on the upper floor and did not completely destroy the building, as was the case in 1893. Some of the charred beams and equipment are still visible on the second floor of the mill.
In November of 1989 the Fenton Feed Mill was purchased from a Myrta Pittman by Daniel Diehl and as of 2013 is still the current owner.
Over the last 50 years the Mill has slowly seen the disappearance of the corn fields and cow pastures be replaced by the industrial parks and the subdivisions. With few farmers in the surrounding area the new customers are the Backyard farmers trying to keep a flock of chickens safe from raccoons and the neighbors dog, and a garden away from the ever more numerous deer and squirrels.
While the mill no longer grinds and bags their own brand of feeds they still clean and bag grains and seed.
Vegetable plants, garden seed, wildlife food plot mixes, lawn seed and fertilizer, trailer hitches and welding gas and supplies are some of the items found at the Mill. A large assortment of poultry is available in the spring and summer months and 6-8 varieties of chicks throughout the fall and winter.